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Authors: John Niven

Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Murder, #Crime Fiction, #Thrillers

Cold Hands

BOOK: Cold Hands
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Contents

About the Book

About the Author

Also by John J. Niven

Title Page

Dedication

Epigraph

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Postscript

Copyright

About the Book

A terrifying, evocative and gut-wrenching thriller – announcing the arrival of a major new voice in the genre.

Donnie Miller counts himself lucky. Living in a beautiful, spacious house in the wild and remote landscape of central Canada, he spends his days writing for the local newspaper, working on a film script, and acting as house-husband. After a troubled and impoverished upbringing in Scotland, he now has all he wants: a caring wife, a bright and happy son, a generous father-in-law. As the brutal northern winter begins to bite, he can sit back and enjoy life.

But his peace is soon broken. There are noises in the nearby woods, signs of some mysterious watcher. When the family dog disappears, Donnie makes a horrifying discovery. Is it wolves, as the police suspect, or something far more dangerous, far darker? What secrets has Donnie been keeping? And why does he have the terrible sense that his dream was never going to last?

A taut, shocking and visceral thriller that will leave you gasping for breath,
Cold Hands
is the first brilliant thriller by the remarkable John J. Niven.

About the Author

John J. Niven was born in Irvine, Ayrshire. Writing as John Niven, he is the author of the novella
Music from Big Pink
and the novels
Kill Your Friends
,
The Amateurs
and
The Second Coming
. He lives in Buckinghamshire. This is his first thriller.

As John Niven

Music From Big Pink

Kill Your Friends

The Amateurs

The Second Coming

Cold Hands
John J. Niven

For my sister, Linda

A real girl

Had I thy brethren here, their lives and thine were not revenge sufficient for me. No, if I digged up thy forefathers’ graves, and hung their rotten coffins up in chains, it could not slake mine ire, nor ease my heart.

Henry the Sixth, Part Three

Prologue
Coldwater, Florida; Present Day

IT´S WARM HERE
, in Coldwater. I’ve lived in four different countries, if you count Scotland and England as separate countries – which most of us Scots would – but this is the first warm one. They say it’s good for what’s left of my leg.

Florida is a strip mall: stretches of highway lined with parking lots, the lots surrounded by eateries offering $3.99 breakfasts and Early Bird Specials, by drugstores bigger than the biggest supermarkets where I grew up: entire aisles of toothbrushes, walls of shampoo, the uncountable brands of mouthwash. Every hundred yards, it seems, there’s the Colonel’s face smiling down at you, or the blood-red, head-of-a-spot-yellow of another McDonald’s. It’s not the kind of place I thought I’d ever live but then, when I arrived here, just over a year ago, I didn’t really care where I ended up.

With the two-year anniversary coming up Dr Tan thought it might help if I could stand to write it all down. I don’t have to show it to anyone. Just put it all down on paper.

She thought it might help me to identify ‘specific areas’ I wanted to work on in our sessions. ‘After all,’ she said,
‘you used to be a writer, didn’t you?’ Well, I managed a laugh at that.

I’m writing this at the desk in the little ground-floor bedroom I’ve made my office. It’s really just a place where I come to read. The house is what they call ‘colonial’: lots of white oak, cool, light and airy. From my window I can see the jungly garden and the small egg-shaped pool. I can smell the azaleas, the beach. Cora, the housekeeper, comes every day. She’s cheerful, black, small and wiry. She straightens the place up and fixes supper.

I’m writing longhand – my left hand still hurts too much for typing on the laptop; the deep, savage scar on my palm, going red when I make a fist, gradually whitening as I unclench it. I am forty-three years old, but I feel, and look, older, like I really have lived two lives concurrently. In strands and streaks, grey is threading through my hair at the temples. The pouches beneath my eyes are now unrelieved by sleep. Taxi drivers will say, ‘You look tired, friend,’ and it doesn’t feel unusually rude. Finally, in the last two years, unable to exercise properly any more, flab has begun to pool and gather at my sides, at my waist. Lying in the bath the other day, straining forward to reach the taps, I found myself out of breath.

She said I didn’t have to show it to anyone, but it has to be written
for
someone. All writing is aimed at someone. So who is this for? Who is its ideal reader? Walt? Sammy? Maybe Craig Docherty? Strangely, I think it’s for
her
. For Gill. The account she was due. And where to begin? Where’s the jumping-off point? The ‘inciting incident’? (Ah, how fondly I remember those screenwriting manuals – Raymond G. Frensham, Syd Field, Denny Flinn – and
their inscriptions:
‘Happy birthday, Donnie, love S XXX (Just do it!)’
Relics of a happier time.) I should really start in Scotland, all those years ago, but I can’t face going there right away. Better to start with the events that led up to that night. Which I think means starting with the dog.

We’ll start with the dog.

1
Saskatchewan, Canada; Two Years Earlier

‘DADDY, I CAN’T
find Herby.’

Slipping my cellphone into my pocket I turned around on the deck that ran the front length of the house, coffee mug in hand, steam rising into the November air, and looked down at Walt. He had a hand raised to shield his eyes from the morning sun reflecting crazy-brilliant off the snow. He was wearing his beige parka with fur trim and a blue Ralph Lauren scarf with a little teddy bear on it. His mittens dangled on strings from his sleeves, hung men, ghost hands echoing the real ones. Walt’s thick fringe fell into his eyes, tea-coloured, an amalgam of his mother’s muddy blonde and mine: black as burnt toast. My son would soon be nine and, thankfully, so far, it looked like he was inheriting his mother’s hair, fine and silky, flopping naturally into a graceful parting. Not mine, this dry, wiry Scottish hair.

‘He’ll be around somewhere, Walt,’ I said, stepping towards him, the snow styrofoam-squeaking beneath my boots. ‘He’s probably with one of the neighbours.’

Part of this was an outright lie – I had just rung both the Franklins and Irene Kramer that morning. Herby, our
caramel Labrador was definitely not with either of them – and the rest of it was said with an assurance I did not feel. While it was true that Herby had run off several times before (‘Saskatchewan is so flat,’ the old joke goes, ‘you can watch your dog run away from home for a week’) and it was possible that the dog was somewhere on our five-acre property, he had never made off in winter before. It wasn’t true Canadian winter yet – the temperature was still hovering above zero – but much worse was forecast for the weeks to come. We’d soon be into minus five and minus six and then the blizzards when the real winter began: fifteen, twenty below. Hoth.

‘That’s what Mommy said,’ Walt began. I could see Sammy through the glass behind him, crossing the huge kitchen, heading for the sink, one of the sinks, to rinse a coffee cup. (Sammy is fastidious.) ‘But what if –’

‘Well, Mommy’s probably right, huh? She usually is. Come on, let’s go back in. It’s cold and you’re gonna be late for school.’ I took a last look around the surrounding fields, hoping against hope to see the bronzed outline coming hopping towards us, tongue lolling. Nothing – just miles of snow.

The view from our deck was the reason Sammy wanted to build the house here; we’re up on a ridge, looking down the valley with Lake Ire in the distance, fringed with pine trees, burning silver. The Franklin property is a mile and a half to our right; Irene’s place, the old Bennett farmhouse, our closest neighbour, a half-mile to our left.

But nothing, no dog. (
Thinking back now my memory keeps trying to add something; black shapes wheeling in the sky, crows circling a spot down at the end of our field, towards Tamora Road,
the main route in to town. But I cannot be sure that I saw this at the time.
)

I shepherded Walt through the sliding glass door – a door in an entire wall of glass that runs the length of the kitchen – and back into the warmth and scent of breakfast; toast, coffee and oatmeal, a bowl of which Sammy was finishing while she watched the small flatscreen TV that hung above the central island in the middle of the room. She was perched on the edge of the scrubbed oak table, her legs crossed at the ankles. Sammy was three years older than me, but looked several younger. (Lousy Scottish genes, I often thought, while being aware of the therapy cliché that when we blame our genes we’re really blaming ourselves.) She wasn’t conventionally beautiful and could quickly list you what she felt her defects were. Her teeth were too prominent, almost buckish, a trait she would hide touchingly by covering her mouth with her hand on the occasions when she laughed spontaneously and unreservedly. There was the faint tracery of acne scars in the hollows of her cheeks and the knotted furrow that appeared in the middle of her forehead when she was concentrating, or irritated. Sammy was tall, nearly six feet, a couple of inches taller than me, and, she felt, gangly. Self-conscious of this as a teen, she’d developed a slouching, stooped posture to try and disguise it, something she could still slip into now and then. She’d been a natural at sports, however – netball and lacrosse for her school – and still had something of the jock about her. She could beat me at a stroll on the tennis court: on vacation, at the club outside Alarbus, or at her parents’ place, with her graceful positioning, that slight pause before she whipped the racket through,
brushing up the ball, imparting topspin, sending me skittering back on my heels.

That morning, in the kitchen, her lips shone from the honey that glossed her oatmeal and her hair was scraped back into a taut ponytail. She was wearing a dark grey wool suit over a black V-neck sweater: a look from the smarter end of her business wardrobe. (I have no business wardrobe. I work from home, sprawled in robe or sportswear in front of the TV or the laptop.)

‘Would you listen to this lying asshole?’ Sammy said, nodding towards the TV, some politician being interviewed on CBC.

‘Mommy swore.’ Walt said this matter-of-factly, un scandalised.

‘You look nice. Got a meeting on today?’

‘Advertisers lunch. Pain in the ass.’

‘Again.’ Walt.

‘Any luck?’ Sammy said softly, raising her eyebrows. She’d been watching me out there with the cellphone. I shook my head.

‘Any luck with what?’ Walt asked.

‘Do we need anything?’ I said, ignoring him, opening the fridge, the gleaming Sub-Zero. ‘I’m gonna take a run in to town this afternoon. Thought I’d pick up some fish or something for dinner and –’

‘There’s those duck breasts in there,’ Sammy said, pulling her coat on now. ‘Some wild rice in the cupboard. Might be nice.’ Sammy the editor, always editing.

‘Any luck with what?’

‘Have you checked the roads?’

‘They’re fine. Christ, you worry, Donnie.’

This was true. Over fifteen years out here and it still shocked me that Canadians routinely drove through weather that would have brought the army onto the streets of Britain.

‘Any luck with what?’
Walt said for the third time.

‘Nothing! Christ, Walt, if –’ I checked myself. ‘Look, maybe Herby’s in the house somewhere, eh? Having a wee sleep. I’ll look again after you’re at school.’

‘He’ll turn up, sweetie,’ Sammy said. C’mere . . .’ She knelt to embrace him, her car keys in one hand. ‘Daddy’s going to look
everywhere
, isn’t he?’

‘Yeah,’ I said, Sammy and I exchanging a look behind Walt’s back.

BOOK: Cold Hands
8.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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